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Growing awareness of pro-ana and pro-mia sites

December 9th, 2005

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 40 percent of newly identified cases of anorexia involve girls ages 15 to 19. About 10 million women and girls and 1 million men and boys are struggling with eating disorders today. Many of them are turning to “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” web sites looking for tips and support for their eating disorder practices, and parents are usually unaware that their children are visiting these web sites.

“Parents often miss the warning signs that indicate their child has an eating disorder, and many have no idea there are entire communities on the Internet that are promoting it,'’ said Lynn Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association. “These web sites are like a cult, a secret society. It’s very frightening and dangerous. As soon as one gets taken down, five more pop up. They’re everywhere.'’

An estimated 40 percent of teens with eating disorders visited these so-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” Web sites last year, according to a study released in June by California’s Stanford School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Most of the Web sites share similar features, including message boards where sufferers post their daily caloric intake and offer support and advice to others who are starving themselves, and a section usually called “thinspiration” featuring photos of emaciated women.

An article about eating disorder web sites in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a brief profile of Shelby Starner, who died of anorexia in 2003, and comments from critics as well as supporters of pro-ana and pro-mia web sites:

From Kathy Benn, Shelby Starner’s mother and founder of the Shelby Project, and Lynn Grefe, head of the National Eating Disorders Association:

“These Web sites make it seem like eating disorders are a trend and a cool thing to do…It’s like these girls don’t realize that people die from this. It’s terrifying.”

“These sites don’t try to help those suffering from eating disorders, they just emphasize and promote it …You’re born with the gun, but if you have the potential for an eating disorder, all of these Web sites and images just pull the trigger.'’

A different view from Alexis Katchuk, a graduate student at American University:

“A lot of people argue that these sites keep girls from getting help and getting healthy,'’ Katchuk said. “But these sites are often the only place these girls can go where they can express themselves, be supported and not judged, and feel safe.'’

“The pro-ana mind-set has been around since long before the Internet,'’ Katchuk said. “If you take the sites down, you just isolate further a group of girls that already feel totally alone and misunderstood. That’s not solving the problem.'’

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